The Otterhound is a large Scent Hound originally developed in the south of England for the sport of hunting otters. Usually working in packs, this breed was typified by its double coat which has a particularly thick woolly undercoat which protected him from the cold of streams in which he used to work. Today he also retains his large ears and his large webbed feet, both originally adapted for swimming.

History of the Otterhound

Southern Hound c 1803Southern Hound c 1803

The Otterhound is derived from an old English type of hound called the Southern Hound that was well known for working slowly and steadily for hours when on the trail of a scent. So at first he was known around Devon and Wales. But, once specialised Fox Hunting came into vogue, the role of the Otterhound changed to that of hunting otters which were more prevalent in the Border Region.

The way the Otterhound hunted is described as like the Southern Hound which was :

Otterhound c 1886Otterhound c 1886

'... like him, low and slow but very sure, his nose being of the tenderest kind, and often owning an air bubble or "vent" at a distance of some yards'. Like him, he is apt to sit down on his haunches and throw his tongue with delight at first touching on a scent, as shown in the engraving in a most characteristic manner'[3].

The Otterhound becomes a Pure Breed

Otterhounds swimming Otterhounds swimming

In the millennia that followed, Otter Drags became a necessity as well as a sport, the Otterhounds being usually in a mixed pack which included the fore-runners of the Terriers of the Border Region. So the Otterhounds became better known in the rivers of the Border Region between England and Scotland. By the time the First English Stud Book was published in 1874, the Otterhound had sufficient breed characteristics to be classified as a separate breed.

An Otter DragAn Otter Drag

Otter Drags

The streams around Yorkshire were plagued by vermin such as water rats and otters which polluted the water. These vermin co-habitated burrows, living and breeding in dens with escape holes often beneath the surface of the water.

Terrier and Hounds entering an Otter HoltTerrier and Hounds entering an Otter Holt

So a terrier was required to enter the otter holt and bolt the vermin into the stream and, with the assistance of a pack of Otterhounds, drive them as they swam towards the huntsmen. As this occurred within the rivers and streams, the huntsmen were positioned wading at least knee deep in water. The otter, often accompanied by water rats was eventually caught in the huntsman's nets. This process, called an otter drag, often went on for hours.

Otterhound Pack c 1907Otterhound Pack c 1907

Not only did these otter drags assist in keeping the streams hygienic, the huntsmen of Yorkshire enjoyed the sheer sport of working their dogs in this two-fold role. So, during the latter part of the 1800's otter drags developed first as a necessity and later as a sport.

The Otterhound Today

Otterhound Otterhound

An Otterhound stands around 27 inches high (bitches 24inches) and has a large body, large feet, and a rough double coat. His long free moving stride should give the impression he is built for long day's work in water but still capable of galloping on land. He should always be even tempered, as he was bred to run freely with packs of other dogs.

Although the head should be deep rather than wide, it should have clean cheekbones and never be coarse. His skull is slightly domed but the stop and occiput should not be exaggerated. The muzzle is slightly shorter than the skull and should be strong and deep, housing a normal scissors bite with large, well placed teeth. Although he should have large flews, these should not be exaggerated. He should have a large wide nose with open nostrils. The nose may be coloured brown in a tan coloured hound or even look as if it lacks some pigment. The head should be well covered with rough hair, ending in a slight moustache and beard.

Otterhound Otterhound

The eyes should be moderately deep set with only a slight amount of haw showing, giving an amiable expression with no scowl. The eye and eye rim colour should be consistent with that of the coat colour, but never yellow.

His dropped ears should be long and pendulous. Designed for swimming, the ears are one of the Otterhound's most important characteristics. The front edge of the ear should drape inwards to waterproof the ear canals. As the ears are long enough to reach beyond the end of the nose, they should also be set on level with the eyes so they are kept out of the dog's sight while the dog is swimming. The ears should be well covered and fringed with hair.

Otterhound Family GroupOtterhound Family Group

The neck should be long with only a slight dewlap. The forelegs should be strongly boned and straight with strong slightly sprung pasterns. He should have well laid shoulders and a fairly deep oval ribcage. The back is very strong, level and broad and the loin is short. The hindquarters should be very well muscled with moderate turn of stifle, standing neither too wide nor too narrow with perpendicular rear pasterns or hocks. Built for swimming, his feet must be large, round, thick padded and webbed.

The Otterhound's gait is unusual. When walking the Otterhound may look as if he is dragging its feet. However, he should spring into a sound trot with balanced reach and drive, covering the ground with long strides typical of a dog capable of galloping smoothly.

The coat should be harsh and dense but it should not be a wiry or broken coat. Instead, he should have a double coat with a slightly oily texture in both top coat and undercoat, with the hair on the head somewhat softer. The coat should only be 1.5 - 3 inches long, and should never be trimmed.


The Otterhound comes in all recognised hound colours which are

  • Whole coloured, grizzle, red, sandy, wheaten or blue, with slight white markings on head, chest, feet and tail tip.
  • Occasionally liver, but never liver and white
  • White with slight lemon, blue or badger pied markings, but never white with black and tan distinctively separate markings.
  • Black and tan, blue and tan, black and cream, tan and liver, tan and white.

Origin of the Otterhound

Dr. Johannes Caius classified as Otterhounds the type of dog with a keen sense of smell which takes to the water on its owners command. Dr Caius' classification was written in Latin and translated into English by A Fleming in 1576[1]. The original translation of this important work is in my opinion too difficult to read to be printed in its original form. So it appears here as my interpretation in modern English:


Of this kind there is none that takes to the water naturally, except to please you. But if you command them to follow the Otter, which haunt the land and the streams, they will follow them boiling and broiling with greedy desire to catch the prey, which swims through river and flood; plunging amidst the water, passing the stream with their paws. This ability to follow the Otter arises from an earnest desire inflamed within them rather than from any natural instinct. These hunting types of dogs are called Brache in English, and Rache in Scottish, a female rather than a male term.[A].

To be short, it is the nature of hounds that some are silent while hunting until the game is found. With others, as soon as they smell out where the beast is located, they betray it immediately by barking, notwithstanding it may be far away, crouching in its hiding place. These hounds, the younger they are, the more they bark, often unnecessarily. Over time, and with experience in game, these hounds learn not only cunning in running, but also an assured foresight into what is to be done; principally, being acquainted with their master's commands, either in revoking or encouraging them to do as the master requires.

[A]This confirms their development in the Border Region.

References and Further Reading

[1] Dr John Caius, "Of Englishe Dogges: The Diuersities, the Names, the Natures, and the Properties", London, 1576, translated into English by Abraham Fleming, Pages 12-13. The work was originally published in Latin in 1570 as "Johannes Caius, De Canibus Britannicis".

[2] Robert Leighton "The Book of the Dog" published circa 1905 Subscriber's Edition, The Waverley Book Co. Ltd. Page 152 (written by George s. Lowe).

[3] J.H.Walsh, under the name 'Stonehenge', 'The Dogs of the British Islands' (Fifth Edition) Published by 'The Field' Office, 346 Strand, W.C.London 1886. Book ll, 'Hounds and their Allies' Chapter ll, Modern Hounds Hunting by Nose. The Otterhound Page 140